Julian Robinson is a decent and earnest young man with enviable equanimity. We hope he goes far in politics.
But if Julian Robinson is to become a transformational leader, which his intellect and temperament provide him with the potential to be, he must, as others of like ambition, escape the trap that ensnares most of those who enter Jamaica's political ring: the parliamentary representative as benevolent provider. That, in general, translates to spending taxpayers' money on patronage.
Mr Robinson, a deputy general secretary of the governing People's National Party (PNP) and first-time parliamentarian, is in focus having entered the debate over how MPs spend their allocations from the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), over which they have substantial control.
This matter is now in public contention because of the contretemps between another first-time PNP MP, Damion Crawford, and PNP councillors and supporters in the East Rural St Andrew constituency. Constituency critics accuse Mr Crawford of being an autocratic and high-handed leader who doesn't consult. But the disagreement has largely been presented as a stand-off between an MP who wants to spend the CDF money on education projects, and supporters want cash handouts and fêtes.
In a letter to this newspaper, Mr Robinson, notes that 36 of the 42 MPs who entered Parliament in January have spent upward of 60 per cent of their allocation on education or education-related projects. We won't be detained by the fact that Mr Robinson's figures include projects still in the pipeline and other mild discrepancies between his numbers and those of the CDF Unit. There is a more fundamental issue at hand.
First, we suspect that Mr Robinson's intervention was a subtle attempt to show that Mr Crawford, pedestal placement notwithstanding, is not the only MP who uses his CDF money for education. Nor is he the leading one. Second, it is a kind of backhanded vindication of the CDF: education is good, money comes from the CDF for education, so the CDF is good.
Pork by any other name
The fact remains, however, that the CDF is a political pork barrel. Which is not to say that all its allocations are for curried goat meals in Styrofoam boxes, to be washed down with lots of white rum. It affords MPs a greater opportunity for the direct delivery of patronage, thus assuming the role as benevolent provider at taxpayers' expense. Incumbents are given a Consolidated Fund-financed advantage over potential challengers.
Further, the CDF blurs the line between parliamentarians as legislators and members of the political executive and the professional bureaucracy of the state - the permanent civil service.
The CDF and similar arrangements siphon resources from existing state institutions to allow the politician to become a direct service deliverer rather than advocate for his constituents and the maker of laws for the good of the wider society. This undermines the efficacy of state institutions and the integrity, professionalism and accountability of the bureaucrats. The upshot: a politicised and corrupt civil service incapable of managing a modern state.
What is promising about Julian Robinson is that he has not shown himself to be a CDF ideologue. There is hope that he may still repudiate the fund.
The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: firstname.lastname@example.org or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.